Finally, Iman Bin Laden is back with her mother who accompanied her daughter to Damascus after many difficult years spent in Iran where Iman lived in a residential compound in Tehran under tight security until she was able to escape and seek refuge in the Saudi embassy in Tehran in search of help. A new life has been ordained for Iman.
It is a fascinating story on the journalistic level and a sad story on the humanitarian level. Now that the young girl has returned to her family safe and sound we can discuss the significance of publishing this story that was broken by Asharq Al-Awsat on December 23, 2009 and was picked up by the international media. Some other [media outlets] tried to claim that they had the exclusive in an amusing manner, and since Iman’s story was published I have heard blame [put on us] and criticism as some people claimed that we disrupted the process of her release while the Iranian media attacked us on the pretext that we were distorting Iran’s image and that we used media pressure!
None of this is true. Rather, with a professional motive, we just tried to do our job despite the difficulty in getting information from all the different parties [involved]. We were always keen to ensure the safe departure of Iman and her siblings from Tehran, so the claims that we made this difficult are completely untrue. On the contrary, Iman’s brother Bakr arrived in Damascus before her and furthermore, Iman spent almost eight weeks in Iran with some of her siblings without anybody knowing this, not even the international intelligence agencies.
The question here is: is it more difficult to hide Iman for eight years or to negotiate her return for three months, especially considering that for the 25 days that Iman spent in the Saudi embassy [in Tehran], the Iranians were denying her presence or that they knew about her, and 24 hours after the story was published, the Iranian Foreign Minister came out to acknowledge her presence!
The publishing of the story made Tehran act cautiously. As a result, Iman’s wellbeing was secured as it became clear that the whole world was watching. Therefore there could only be a calm and happy ending, as the discovery of the presence of the Bin Laden children in Iran in itself is costly to Tehran on the international and Arab levels.
From the moment Iran admitted [Iman Bin Laden was in the country] we were careful with what we published, as we took into consideration the family’s feelings and did not want to complicate matters. However, we were keen not to forget about public opinion, which deserved to hear Iman’s story in an impressive manner.
The importance of Iman’s story is that it revealed Al Qaeda’s connection to Iran and it proved that half of the battle between our region and Tehran is in the media; the Iranian media is misleading [people] about us according to [the logic of] ‘if you can’t convince them then you must confuse them.’ Therefore the best response to Iranian deception is to confront it with the facts and not by remaining silent, which only makes them go further. Unfortunately, some of us prefer to criticize the media rather than understand its role, its benefits and how we can reduce the damage [the media causes] by communicating with it and providing it with the facts. Just as a respectable newspaper needs sources at the very least to back up its news, there must also be a source that tells the truth and believes in the influence and benefits of the media in order to guarantee media credibility.
Iman has returned to her family and we believe that we did our job to the fullest. The lesson [to be learnt here] is that some in our region fear the media more than they attach importance to international laws, norms and the rights of neighboring countries. Iman’s story is clear evidence of this.